When Bill de Blasio first took office as mayor of New York in 2014, he called two powerful real estate developers who had active projects in the city, and asked them to donate money to a nonprofit organization that he had created to advance his political agenda.
The request to help his nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, seemed to violate the city’s ethics law, and a ban against asking for contributions from people who had business pending with the city. Within months of his solicitations, Mr. de Blasio was formally warned by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board — in a previously undisclosed letter — not to repeat the behavior.
But even after that warning, the mayor continued to hit up well-connected donors for money, according to documents that the city has now released after years of an extraordinary legal campaign by the de Blasio administration to keep the documents secret.
In February 2015, the mayor made a call to Jeffrey Levine, chairman of Douglaston Development, which had just won city approval for $12 million in financing for an affordable housing complex, and had taken ownership of a parcel of city-owned land in the Bronx.
Both men later received follow-up calls from the nonprofit’s fund-raiser, Ross Offinger, and each donated $25,000.
In April of that year, Mr. de Blasio spoke with James Capalino, a major city lobbyist with many clients doing city business, to ask for his support. The campaign’s fund-raiser made another follow-up call, and Mr. Capalino donated $10,000.
As the mayor nears the end of his eight-year tenure, questions about his fund-raising remain a potential political liability as he navigates a likely bid for governor next year.
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat elected in 2013, has been the subject of separate federal, state and local investigations into his methods to raise money for the Campaign for One New York, and for a separate effort in 2014 to wrest control of the State Senate from the Republicans.
Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against the mayor, but some of the developers who contributed to the mayor’s nonprofit were fined by the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics for violating lobbying laws, including Douglaston and Toll Brothers.
The new details of Mr. de Blasio’s outreach to donors were contained in a pair of secret letters from the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board to the mayor. In the first letter, dated July 2014, the board said the mayor had violated ethics laws with his two fund-raising calls to developers and warned him not to do it again.
The second letter, sent in September 2018, found that Mr. de Blasio had continued the practice and included a forceful reprimand of the mayor. The letters were released this week, after the State Court of Appeals denied a final effort by the mayor’s office to keep the documents secret.
The city had, for more than two years, fought The New York Times’s efforts to obtain the board’s correspondence with the mayor, denying an initial Freedom of Information request and then fighting a lawsuit filed by The Times.
“By soliciting these three donations from firms with business pending or about to be pending before executive agencies,” the second letter said, referring to the mayor’s 2018 fund-raising efforts, “you not only disregarded the board’s repeated written advice, but created the very appearance of coercion and improper access to you and your staff that the board’s advice sought to help you avoid.”
It continued: “A public servant who engages in solicitations such as these, either directly or through a surrogate, acts in conflict with that public servant’s official duties, in violation” of the City Charter’s ethics code.
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